12 Questions to Ask Before Accepting an IT Job
Published in InformationWeek
By: David Wagner
The corporate culture in which you’re working is as important as the work you’re being asked to do. Here are 12 questions to help you figure out what kind of workplace you’d be walking into before you accept your next job offer.
- Who Gets Promoted?
In a recent IT Life radio interview, Lever CEO Sarah Nahm said that culture isn’t about perks like t-shirts. She said: “Culture is about who is hired and who gets promoted.” When you go into your interview, ask the manager what criteria are used for promotions — what types of skills the company looks for in its managers. Most importantly, look around at the management teams. Do they seem to fit what the interviewer says they value?
- What Is That One Skill?
Ask the hiring manager if there’s one single trait the company looks for in all its employees. If the person who is interviewing you can’t identify this trait, or it’s one you don’t have covered, you might want to consider going somewhere else.
Lever CEO Sarah Nahm said that managers need to define a corporate culture by identifying one skill that the company wants to replicate. For Lever, the skill was empathy.
“Look around the office and identify the one person you wish you had 20 of, and ask yourself what makes that person special,” said Nahm. “Then hire for those traits.”
- Are People Laughing?
Look around when you’re visiting a company’s offices for a job interview. Are people smiling and laughing? Is there an ease about the place? If not, that says a lot about the corporate culture. It may be A-OK for you. Maybe you don’t need to laugh at work. In fact, some people can’t stand the joking and kibitzing that goes on in office environments. If a friendly, easy-going culture is important to you, the sound of laughter can indicate you’ve come to the right place.
- Are People Standing Around Talking?
Are you collaborative? Do you like to be a part of a team? Then take a look around the office during your interview. Do people have their heads in their computers, or are they mingling together in small groups? (I’m not talking about in conference rooms. That’s not collaborating.) We all know some of the best ideas in an office come from people having a random chat. Having a look around can help you figure out if this kind of conversation is encouraged.
- Are There Comfy Chairs In The Break Room?
Is the company providing a space to recharge and relax, or are they offering a space where people can scarf down brown bag lunches and rush back to their desks? If the recharge space is bleak, chances are you’ll be expected to be at your desk as much as possible.
- How Did They Answer Your Tweet?
This suggestion comes from Glassdoor, which also offers other advice for researching culture. A company’s social media presence these days is usually held to fairly high standards, needing to be on-brand and on-message. If you give the company a shout-out on social media and get a good response, it might give you a clue as to how people are treated in-house, too. Heck, even the President does it.
- What Do Former Employees Say?
Another Glassdoor suggestion. This one isn’t always easy, but sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn make it more possible than it was a decade ago. Former employees are more likely to speak the truth than current employees who don’t want to rock the boat (or worse). Former employees will tell you the little things that annoyed them. Use this information wisely. Any sour grapes can spoil the advice. It is best to find people who fit the company, and left for other reasons than because they were unhappy.
- Can You Talk with The Person You’re Replacing?
You can’t do any better than talking to the person who did the job before. If he or she is getting promoted or transferred, and they’ll talk to you, chances are you’ll get some honesty, even if it’s unintentional. People like to talk about themselves and what they do. They might be guarded at first, but they also know you can come find them later if you take the job. So, if they gloss things over too much, they’ll know you can call them out on it later. Plus, people love talking about how they suffer as a martyr to the corporate cause.
- How Are Major Decisions Made?
Want to know how senior management really works, and how much you’ll be involved? Ask how decisions get made. How many people are involved? What decisions will you get to be involved in? Beware the answer you get. Every manager thinks he or she is more inclusive than may be the case. Still, there’s a big difference between a cliché (“My door is always open.”) and a process (“Around budget time, I bring in all of my team to discuss major issues and then my managers prioritize before a final decision is made by senior management.”).
- What Happens to New Ideas?
People joining a company always bring a fresh perspective. They often spot inefficiencies and problems that others have learned to tolerate. If you see one, how would that be communicated, and would it be welcome? Asking about the innovation process is akin to asking about the decision-making process. It is less about the exact answer, and more about whether the manager has a sense of a process.